Donald Jonas, Retail Magnate Who Sold Art to Help Nurses, Dies at 92

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Mr. Jonas attended Horace Mann School in the Bronx, where, by his own account, he was an indifferent student and skipped class regularly. After graduating, he enrolled at the University of Richmond in Virginia, but he dropped out as a freshman to return home after his father died of a heart attack at a store the family owned on 14th Street in Manhattan.

While helping to care for his mother, Mr. Jonas worked in the family business, which had been founded in 1895 by his grandfather Samuel Jonas, a Polish immigrant who started as a milliner before expanding to sell other kinds of women’s clothes.

After learning the retail trade and serving in the Marines during the Korean War, he started his own company in 1953. He sold inexpensive women’s clothing from spaces leased inside department stores and other outlets.

Doing business under the name Barbara Lynn Stores (for his wife), Mr. Jonas navigated the ups and downs familiar to discount retailers over the next two decades. At its peak, the company operated over 140 women’s apparel departments and 19 stores of its own, according to a 1992 article in Forbes. He was also chairman of a successor company, Belscot Retailers.

Eventually, big discount chains like Kmart began to dominate the sector, prompting Mr. Jonas to try something that proved to be his best-known venture: a collaboration with Albert Lechter, who had been running housewares sections in Mr. Jonas’s stores.

With department stores scaling back their kitchenware sections, Mr. Jonas and Mr. Lechter, who died in 2017, devised plans for a store that sold pots, pans, vegetable peelers, slotted spoons, aprons and most anything else a home cook might want. They called it Lechters Housewares and opened their first store in a Rockaway, N.J., mall in 1977.

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